Super Bowl coaches: a legend vs. an impressive newcomer
Pasadena, Calif. — This is an invitation to come and meet the head coaches, Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins and Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins, whose teams clash here in Super Bowl XVII on Sunday.
Shula has five kids and lives in a four-bedlam house. Gibbs has two kids and lives in Vienna. However, even with strudel cooking in the oven, it's still Vienna, Va.
Most people have forgotten by now that when the Baltimore Colts hired Shula in 1963, they were making him, at age 33, the youngest coach in the National Football League. Prior to that, Don had been the defensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions for three years.
What criticism there was of Shula in his early years as a head coach stemmed from his always wanting to handle anything major himself, instead of sharing the load with his assistants. Nevertheless, in his seven years with Baltimore, Don posted a 73-26-4 overall record, including a Super Bowl appearance against the New York Jets in 1969.
Yet when owner Joe Robbie of the floundering Miami Dolphins decided that Shula was the man to straighten out his club and pursued him without getting Baltimore's permission, Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom never really tried very hard to keep him.
This seemed odd, since Baltimore still had Shula under contract and could have easily blocked the move. But friends of Rosenbloom's said later that he had become disenchanted with Don after the heavily favored Colts were upset by Joe Namath and the Jets. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle would later award Miami's 1971 first draft pick to the Colts as compensation for Shula.
After Don transformed the 3-10-1 Dolphins into a playoff team in his first year in Miami, Robbie probably felt he'd gotten off cheap, and when the Dolphins went to three Super Bowls in a row (losing in 1972, then winning in '73 and '74) , he knew he had. Shula stressed fundamentals, put a lot of emphasis on defense , and fined players $10 a pound if they failed to trim down to the weights he assigned them.
''No matter what people say about the quality of your personnel, you've got to go out and do it yourself,'' Don explained. ''You don't win games because you're favored and you don't lose games because you're the underdog. It's what happens on game day that counts. You've got to think positively and do the things that are necessary to win.''
Shula's philosophy has carried him to a firm place in NFL coaching history. With a 20-year record of 214-85-6 (including this season's 10-2 overall mark so far), he is one of only four NFL coaches to record 200 victories, while his .706 winning percentage is the best among the league's all-time 10 winningest mentors. And when he takes up his post on the sidelines Sunday he will tie Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys in total Super Bowl appearances with five.
Gibbs, of course, is the new kid on the block in terms of credentials. For some reason it took Joe (who was 40 when Washington went after him) much longer to get an NFL head coaching job. Perhaps it had something to do with his easygoing disposition, which may have led to the belief that he wouldn't be tough enough to keep his players in line.
But there was no mistaking Joe's talent as an offensive coordinator or the high regard he established in that job around the league, first at St. Louis, then at Tampa Bay, and still later at San Diego. His background seemed perfect for the Redskins; his teaching ability unquestioned.
Gibbs, because he wears the kind of glasses that are often favored by librarians and stockbrokers, probably comes off more serious than he really is.
When Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke hired Gibbs two years ago, he told reporters: ''Joe appeals to me because of his obvious dedication to the game. I believe his abilities match his ambitions. He's a pioneer in the game in as much as he recognized before others the perceptible change in the character of the game.''
Gibbs's idea of motivation has nothing in common with Vince Lombardi's School of Intimidation. Instead of relying on fear to get what he wants from his players, Joe's style is built on mutual trust and making sure that everybody knows why he is being asked to do his job in a certain way.
When Washington started 0-5 in 1981, there was speculation that maybe Gibbs didn't have what it takes to be a head coach in the NFL. But he adjusted, stopped relying so much on the passing game, and went to a more balanced attack that produced a strong finish and an 8-8 overall record.
Later he said: ''Our goal is to control the ball; not make more than two turnovers a game. . .and play aggressive defense. We haven't abandoned the pass. We'll even throw deep against certain defenses. But nobody in this league can win consistently putting the ball in the air 40 times a game.''
Although the Redskins are one of the few remaining NFL teams using the 4-3 defense, Gibbs started an offensive trend this year when he began going with a four-receiver formation that left him with just one running back behind the line of scrimmage.
It worked, too - largely because fullback John Riggins is such a powerful runner and quarterback Joe Theismann always seems to find an open receiver. And so in only his second season Gibbs earned Coach of the Year honors for an 8-1 record, won three more games in the playoffs, and now gets his own first shot at the ultimate prize Sunday.